This may come as a shock to those of you who don’t know me very well, or do not find me amusing, but I spent ten years doing stand-up comedy. I was a comedian, or a stand-up comic, not a “comedienne” as some people liked to call me while patting themselves on the back for being so knowledgeable. Unless you are someone who refers to your female doctor as a doctorette, and I hope she does many painful medical tests on you if you do, there is really no reason to call someone with ovaries a comedienne.
Comedy was more of a hobby than a career as I stuck to the state of Florida and ventured into Georgia once. As a parent, I didn’t feel that the life on the road necessary for a full-fledged comedy career would be appropriate. I could not look my son in the eye and say, “Mommy would rather entertain drunk people than watch you grow.” I’ve met many comedians who have done just that, and more. Knowing that my son is more important than any career is just one life lesson that I learned from doing comedy. Here are the rest:
- You truly can’t judge a book by its cover.
Some comedians try to judge an audience by the age of the people, or the race or nationality. They are the Archie Bunkers of comedy. I just told my jokes. They were real jokes that everyone could relate to. I’ve seen many older crowds laugh at vibrator jokes. A lot of comedians like to complain about a “rough audience.” As Jerry Seinfeld used to say, “It’s not the crowd; it’s you.” When we bring our preconceived notions, we bomb, on stage and in life.
- Not everyone will like you.
Sad but true, no matter what you do, there are some people who just won’t like you. I’ve had hundreds of successful shows, but two very bad ones. Both bad shows occurred in more rural cities. I learned that I am a “city folk” kind of comedian. I didn’t bomb because the rural crowds were too rough, or bad. I bombed because I just couldn’t reach them. Like other mortals, I don’t achieve common ground with everyone.
- Nothing will take you down faster than fear.
I’ve done many open-mike nights, both as a beginner and as a more experienced comic. I always cringed when a new comic would get up on stage and tell the audience about his stage fright. No! No! No! Fear is not funny, nor useful. To be successful, nervous energy must be used to, well, energize. Showing fear turns you into a wildebeest in the center of a pride of hungry lions.
- There is always room for compassion.
I will never forget this one drunk woman at a Friday night show. She was the worst heckler that I had ever had. She would not shut up, not for me or the other comics. I hammered her with everything in my STFU arsenal. Still talking. When the headliner was on stage, at the end of the show, she finally got quiet. That’s because she was in the bathroom barfing. My first thought was, “serves her right.” Then, I remembered how horrible it is to puke and I thought about what a rough night she had ahead of her. So, when she came out of the bathroom, I took her to a table in the back and got her ginger ale and crackers. The other comics thought I was nuts. She’s probably a perfectly nice person when she’s sober, and she had probably had a horrible week at work or something. We all screw up.
- You don’t have to be sexy to be successful.
Comedians come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Some are gorgeous and some, well, not so much. Being funny is not about being sexy. I’ve only known one comedian who was both. One. Being successful at comedy depends more on how quick you can think than how skinny you can be.
- It’s good to know what is going on the world.
Comedians make fun of the world around them, so, clearly, they must actually pay attention to the world outside of their homes. By world, I mean everything not just Snooki’s hair. In the real world, it is also good to speak intelligently about things that matter.
I think everyone should do comedy, at least once. There are so many things to learn, and there is no better feeling than being DONE with a public speaking gig. After 10 years, public speaking doesn’t bother me at all and it is most people’s number one fear. Do you believe that? How could anyone’s number one fear be speaking into a microphone to a crowd of people who are there to listen to you? My number one fear is frogs. They are slimy, they boing at you and they do not listen.